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Proposed wind farm in North Dakota gets boost in power

FARGO - The developer behind the proposed Rough Rider wind farm in North Dakota's Dickey County has increased the project's capacity from 150 megawatts to 175 megawatts.

That anticipated boost, contemplated by NextEra Energy, might not sound like much. But North Dakota regulators regard it as a sign that energy developers still have big plans for harvesting winds that sweep the landscape.

"It's quite encouraging," North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer said of the increased capacity for a wind farm that represents an investment of more than $300 million, if approved.

Meanwhile, an important proposed transmission line from the Fargo area to the Twin Cities has gained the recommendation of an administrative law judge's review in Minnesota.

If ultimately approved, the transmission project would help serve wind farms in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

Because of the economic slowdown and the difficulty in obtaining credit, some wind developers recently announced they will wait to build some projects around the nation.

"Marginal projects have been put on the back burner or canceled," Cramer said. Some projects, because of the wind characteristics or cost of building transmission lines, are not as efficient as others.

Because wind speeds are highly variable and intermittent, the industry rule of thumb is that a wind farm operates at roughly 30 percent of its rated capacity.

NextEra, formerly FPL Energy, estimates the efficiency for the Rough Rider wind farm would range from 38 to 45 percent.

"That's very high net capacity," Cramer said. "Very high. That's as good as it gets."

Highly efficient winds make North Dakota, once dubbed the "Saudi Arabia of wind," potentially one of the most productive areas in the nation. That suggests to Cramer and Tony Clark, a fellow Public Service commissioner, that wind developers' interest won't wane.

Indeed, proposed wind projects representing almost 6,000 megawatts of rated capacity are in the regulatory pipeline in North Dakota. Combined, they would mean $11.4 billion in investment, according to figures compiled by the Public Service Commission.

To accommodate that growth, significant upgrades in transmission will be needed. In fact, transmission projects recently approved or pending approval in North Dakota total $507.4 million, including $390 million for the proposed line from the Fargo area to the Twin Cities.

That project, recently recommended by an administrative review, is part of an extensive transmission upgrade involving utilities in Minnesota and neighboring states called CapX2020.

"It'll help the whole state in a number of ways," Clark said of the proposed Fargo-to-Monticello power line.

The CapX2020 initiative aims to expand transmission capacity to handle the projected growth in power demand in Minnesota, the leading market for power exported from North Dakota.

Originally, the terminus for the line was slated for a power substation along the Maple River northwest of Fargo. Because of concerns about growth in the metro area, however, that location might be moved, Clark said.